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The great snow of 1717

December 17, 2011
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

The Great Snow of 1717 was a series of snowstorms between February 27, and March 7, 1717, that blanketed the colony of New York and the New England colonies with five or more feet of snow and much higher drifts. The winter, even prior to the great snow, had been the worst in memory. By December there had already been snow to the depth of five feet, by the end of January there were drifts of 25 feet in a few places, overwhelming the people of New England.

The Great Snow began on February 27. A typical Nor'easter passed through with snow falling in some places and other places receiving a mixture of snow, sleet, and rain. The first major storm occurred on March 1, with another on the 4th, and a third, which was the worst, on the 7th.

Some of the oldest Native Americans had said that even their ancestors never spoke of a storm of this magnitude. In Hampton, Massachusetts, the snow was so deep that people could only leave their houses from the second floor on the lee side of the house, implying actual snow depths of as much as 8 feet. Many single story homes were buried completely, without even the chimney showing. Large expanses of snow were 10-15 deep with some drifts of 20 feet. The roads were impassable until at least March 15.

The geographic scope of the storm is unknown, due to the scarce population, and poor record keeping of the day. Most of the information is known only from private diaries.

Many livestock lost their lives, either starving, or freezing under the drifts of snow, and as many as 95% of the deer population in the area died.

In many places cattle and sheep were allowed to roam around during the winter, and the fall of snow was such that scores of these were buried and then of course froze to death before help could reach them. In the spring, some of the cattle were found standing erect, frozen solid in their tracks.

Every village organized searching parties to hunt for widows or elderly people who could not care for themselves. In many cases people were starting to burn their furniture as they could not get to the wood shed for fuel.

The snow lasted a long time. When at last the sun and southern winds rendered the roads passable and allowed light to enter the windows of the first floors, there was cause for great satisfaction and happiness.



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